Morally Compromised Art, on the Big Screen

Look around the Internet at any list of the best science-fiction novels of all time, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game will be at or near the top (see here, here, or here). Frankly, I've always thought it was a little overrated. A good book, certainly, but better than Dune or 1984 or the Foundation trilogy? Come on. In any case, Ender's Game was published in 1985, and it's finally reaching the screen this November, in a big-budget blockbuster starring Harrison Ford, among other people. As soon as the film was announced, people started advocating a boycott of the film because of Card's views about politics in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Card is not just an opponent of marriage equality, he used to be on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, the most prominent anti-marriage-equality organization. And his writings about politics aren't just conservative, they're positively unhinged, run through with the kind of venomous hatred for liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular that we've become depressingly familiar with over the last few years.

So the question is, should that affect how we view this film, and whether we give over our ten or twelve bucks to see it, some small portion of which will presumably find its way to Card?

Just to put this in context, here's a column Card wrote recently, in which he suggests that Barack Obama, whom he compares (naturally) to Hitler, will maneuver to remain in power forever by creating an army of thugs to terrorize good Americans who oppose his dictatorial rule:

Where will he get his "national police"? The NaPo will be recruited from "young out-of-work urban men" and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.

In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama's enemies.

Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people "trying to escape" -- people who all seem to be leaders and members of groups that oppose Obama.

After spinning out his nightmare scenario for a couple thousand words (and believe me, it only gets worse), Card moves to evade moral responsibility for the rancid poison running around his head and out his keyboard by saying, "Will these things happen? Of course not. This was an experiment in fictional thinking. But it sure sounds plausible, doesn't it? Because, like a good fiction writer, I made sure this scenario fit the facts we already have -- the way Obama already acts, the way his supporters act, and the way dictators have come to power in republics in the past."

We sometimes assume that all artists will be liberals, which is of course absurd. We also assume that people who show some measure of skill and insight in one area, like fiction, would necessarily be capable of applying rational thinking in another area, like analysis of politics. It isn't surprising that Card is a conservative, but what is shocking is that he's got all the analytical rigor of an 18-year-old frat boy getting his first taste of Glenn Beck. Obama, he says, "has never had to work for a living, and he has never had to struggle to accomplish goals. He despises ordinary people, is hostile to any religion that doesn't have Obama as its deity, and his contempt for the military is complete." And really, did you need thirteen Hitler references?

But once a piece of art is created, it exists on its own apart from the artist's intent, not to mention what the artist believed about other matters having nothing to do with that particular piece of art. The more profound a piece of art is, the greater its ability to speak to our own lives, enabling us to find meaning in it that the artist never intended. Card's ideology isn't particularly evident in Ender's Game, and now we're talking about a movie, not even Card's book itself but a derivative work created out of the efforts of a few hundred other people, nearly all of whom probably find his views abhorrent.

But still, isn't there some point at which an artist's views or acts are so repugnant that you just don't want to get within a mile of anything they've touched? It isn't hard to think of extreme examples. Let's say you found out that Justin Bieber had secretly become a Grand Dragon in the KKK—would you still be OK with your daughter putting up a poster of him? What about Chris Brown? Can you hear a song of his without thinking of him punching Rihanna in the face? Because I sure can't, and I wouldn't want to give him a dime of my money.

So perhaps there's a difference between how we judge particular pieces of art and whether we choose to support the artist. When you put your money down, or even when you just make an affirmative decision to take in that person's work, you're doing the latter. I read Ender's Game some years ago, but once I found out what Orson Scott Card's views are like, the thought of reading any of his other books made me feel morally contaminated. I'm not going to tell anybody else not to read them or not to see the movie, but I just can't escape that feeling.

And in case you're curious about what this is all about, here's the trailer for Ender's Game:

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